County loans out airport money

Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

On June 6, Houston County commissioners saved some airport funds by loaning them out.

The board voted to transfer $200,000 worth of 2015, 2016, and 2017 Federal Aviation Administration non-primary entitlement funds to the City of Albert Lea, to be paid back by 2020.

County engineer Brian Pogodzinski told commissioners that it’s a common way to save towards expensive airport projects such as repaving runways, building structures, or acquiring land. That’s because the FAA provides the money on a “use it or lose it” basis.

“We’ve done this before,” Pogodzinski said. “Last year we transferred some money to the City of Albert Lea, the year prior to that we transferred some entitlement money over to the City of Moorhead, and four or five years ago we transferred some money to the City of Winona for their airport.

“Each airport gets an allotted amount of money every year that goes towards certain types of projects. The money has a three-year shelf life, so if you don’t use it three years out it goes back to the FAA.”

The Houston County Airport runway was re-paved a few years ago, so, “There really isn’t anything major on our schedule towards the remainder of this year or next year,” the engineer added.

After 2017 upkeep costs are paid, “We’re anticipating that we will have somewhere between $40,000 to $60,000 remaining in our non-primary entitlement fund pot,” Pogodzinski reported. “We’ll get $150,000 (from the FAA) next year, and those two numbers should be enough for whatever we need to do then.” If the need arises in 2018, current loan agreements could bring some of those dollars back sooner, he added.

“How much do we have sitting out there in other places?” Commissioner Fred Arnold asked. “We’ve probably loaned out in the neighborhood of $600,000,” Pogodzinski replied.

Other highway department votes

Commissioners approved low bids of $89,400 (for crack sealing) and $85,004 (for pavement marking). The first offer was approximately $5,000 under the engineering estimate, while the second was $7,300 over the anticipated cost.

The board also voted to assign highway maintenance specialist David Bauer to the new post of highway maintenance specialist senior, effective June 12. Approved on May 23, the new job includes the addition of part-time “lead” duties.

Another ballot approved a new “Master Partnership Contract” with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Pogodzinski said that the pact will serve as a template to “go along with every  contract” the county has with MNDOT. The agreement will be in place until June 30, 2022.

Permits approved

Three conditional use permits were approved. The first was for Kurt Zehnder to build a house in Mayville Township on less than 40 acres in an agricultural district. The CUP lists two conditions. The first is the “standard” provision that all federal, state, and local regulations will be followed, while the second requires that the parcel where the home will go will be split as described in the survey, with ownership “wholly or partially by Kurt W. Zehnder.”

Two CUPs for Darin Meyer of Spring Grove Township will allow a feedlot to expand from 147 to 553 animal units, along with the construction of a new manure storage pit with a capacity exceeding 20,000 gallons. Conditions include obtaining all permits required under Minnesota animal feedlot rules, proof via a “geophysical investigation acceptable to the Houston County Zoning Office,” that the new pit will be located where subsurface conditions will not pose a pollution risk, and the standard stipulation regarding all other regulations being followed.

Other news

The board approved a new two-year contract with Wabasha County, continuing an ongoing fraud prevention program which serves human services departments within both Houston and Wabasha counties. Wabasha County administers the state grant which pays for the fraud investigations, and provides staff to provide those through it’s Sheriff’s Department. Houston County will pay $1,500 per year in administrative fees, with all other costs paid by grant dollars.

Commissioners voted to hire social worker Tessa Diepenbrock, contingent upon the successful completion of a background check. Her start date will be July 17. The board also voted to advertise for a full-time assessor to back-fill the opening left when Cindy Cresswell-Hatleli took over as head of the department. The same motion includes posting a part-time (67-day) job opening for another assessor.

The board discussed the possible demolition of an abandoned building at 1524 Clinton Road, Houston, Minnesota. That mailing address refers to a structure in Money Creek. Damaged by a fire, the dilapidated building has now become a threat to public safety, Commissioner Teresa Walter noted. Two Money Creek Township officers attended the meeting,  reporting “a lot of complaints” on the building, which is apparently now infested with “a lot of rats or rodents.” A residential development now adjoins the pair of lots where the building is located.

A court order filed on May 22 warned property owner Thomas Rohn that unless “corrections” are made to the condition of the building on or before August 1, the county can raze the structure.

Environmental services director Rick Frank asked commissioners if they want to prepare to demolish the building, assessing the costs against the property. They made no vote on the matter, but did reach a consensus to move forward on correcting the situation, one way or another. Frank said that razing the building, hauling off debris and filling in the hole, plus sealing the well would likely cost “close to what the estimates on those lots are worth. I went to the Assessor’s Office and the lots are worth about $30,000 each. It’s going to take close to that ($50,000 to $60,000) for that building to be torn down.